The Age of Innocence

Book: By Edith Wharton.

Inciting Event: When a party is to be thrown to welcome the Countess Ellen Olenska back to New York City, high society initially resists, finding her too controversial and scandalous a figure. The protagonist Archer defends Ellen—who is a childhood friend and his fiancée’s cousin.

This turning point introduces both aspects of the main conflict—Archer’s attachment to Ellen and society’s resistance to her.

First Plot Point: Although in denial about his attraction to Ellen (and his reason for sending her flowers), he is forced into the main thrust of the conflict when he is assigned by the head of his law firm to deal with Ellen’s divorce case. Falling into line with society’s wishes, he convinces her not to proceed with it.

First Pinch Point: After encountering the banker Beaufort calling upon Ellen, Archer is overcome with jealousy—although he is still in denial about why. He rushes off to join his fiancée May in Florida, to press for a shorter engagement. While there, she confronts him, realizing there is someone else in his thoughts and affections. He denies it. She initially refuses to shorten their engagement.

Midpoint: In a passionate Moment of Truth, Archer declares his love to Ellen. She reciprocates his love but insists they cannot be together under the circumstances—both because he is engaged to her cousin and because he prevented her from divorcing her adulterous husband. Morosely, Archer agrees and marries May.

Second Pinch Point: After returning from his honeymoon in Europe, Archer encounters Ellen for the first time. She does not seem to see him, and he does not speak to her—but the feelings he thought under control once again begin to rise up.

Third Plot Point: When May and Ellen’s grandmother suffers a stroke, Ellen is brought to New York City to care for her. While there, Archer begs her to run away with him. She refuses to become his mistress.

Note how the grandmother’s imminent death casts the symbolism of death across the Third Plot Point, while Archer suffers his low moment and the death of his romantic hopes elsewhere.

Climax: Archer sees Ellen one final time at a dinner that is her send-off back to Europe. He confronts her one last time, but she refuses to yield to his wishes.

Climactic Moment: He learns his wife is pregnant—and that she was the one who convinced Ellen to leave.

Resolution: Years later, after his children are grown and May is dead, Archer turns down the opportunity to see Ellen again.

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